The early years workforce suffers terribly from being undervalued, by both Government and society. It appears to me that because we don’t have clear recall about our early childhood (the pre-linguistic phase), it isn’t clearly understood or respected. There is little appreciation from outside (or sometimes even within the education sector) that this is the time when we create the fabric or core of our personality.
In trying to understand the reasons behind this, which don’t simply appear to be influenced by qualifications (think the Early Years Professional programme and how this was never adequately established), I am interested in the idea of being ‘professional’.
I came across Dale Atkins, an avalanche and mountain rescue worker. He talks about a professional being someone who ‘delivers judgement’, often in the face of uncertainty. In other words, relying on a combination of knowledge, skills and experience when working in an area where no two experiences are necessarily the same. This is important as it relies on learning and experience as well as application of theory. This separates the idea of a professional from certificates, qualifications and position in society. A consequence of the lack of value placed on early education is that it can distract us into justifying our importance, often by focusing on qualification or theory rather than experience.
In his speech (available on TED.com), he claims a necessary part of being professional is the cyclical way that attitudes drive behaviours, which in turn drive actions, which reinforce attitudes. As with any cycle, change one part and it influences the whole. It makes sense – we contribute to others’ view of our profession both publicly and personally. This brings me hope, in an underfunded sector, with a workforce populated by people who aren’t in it for the money or status; we demonstrate our professionalism every day. Not always so true of other, more accepted, ‘professions’.
I was attracted to the early years phase because I believe it is transformative, that it can change the world. By making sure our behaviour and actions demonstrate the value we place on what we do, attitudes can change for those who don’t or won’t understand the seminal worth of the early years to society.